Starting a world tour in Cairo definitely means starting by jumping into the very deep end of the pool.
Wednesday morning was spent having coffee on my quiet, peaceful balcony in Munich. Wednesday night saw me desperately scanning the taxi line at cairo airport, trying to figure out what had went wrong with the airport ticket promised by my hotel, while dodging all the other taxi drivers smelling the blood of a disoriented recent arrival.
One of the less reputable guys approaching me was waving a cell phone in my face, showing Whatsapp messages in arabic, when I realized that my name was spelled out in one of the messages in roman letters. A few seconds later it was clear that the guy spoke no English whatsoever, but communicated with a series of smiles and thumbsups that he would drive me to my hotel. A second guy joined him – possibilities for his participations flashed through my mind: Is it a) look at the crazy foreigner, b) use the opportunitiy for baksheesh, or c) team up to rob me in an alley. It turned out to be a little bit of a), but mostly d) sit on the passenger side, and wave his arm out the window to signal an intended lane change. I was not sure whether the driver was not aware of the existence of turn signals, or considered that just too impersonal. But it left the driver free to pull up to cars on the left (left “lane” being to fluid a concept to be accurate), to what I interpreted as a mix of asking for directions and trading colorful insults.
- Crazy traffic? Check.
- Crazy heat? Check.
- Crazy exchange rate, leading to everything being either quite expensive if priced for tourists or expats, or dirt cheap if priced for locals? Check.
- Communication reduced to pointing and smiling? Check.
- Things are just….different? Check.
- Sticking out as a white guy like a sore thumb? Check.
Yup, definitely not in Kansas anymore.
I cannot thank my 23-year-old past self enough for having spent enough time in India to aquire some useful outside-of-the-rich-western-world instincts that mostly translate surprisingly well to Egypt.
The street in the middle of downtown with my hotel – think “beautiful turn-of-the-century colonial architecture after a few decades of crumbling”.
Speaking of crumbling: The elevator “shaft” leading up to my hotel room. Can confirm it works, but have used the stairs ever since.
An actually very nice room for about 20 Euros a night. AC is my new best friend – was taking a short walk around the hotel at 10 at night, in complete darkness, and returned sweaty as hell at only 34 degrees – supposed to go up to 40 degreees the next days. Sadly, the door leads to a beautiful balcony, but has no actual window pane in the window, so need to keep it closed and dark to keep out the heat and noise.
Trying out some local snacks is half the fun of travelling. With food, the good old method of “point at stuff that looks appealing, then shove money in small bills at the vendor until he smiles or gives change back” luckily works pretty universally.
Food shopping, intermediate level: Took a minute of watching other people to figure out that yup, not a distributor, you can buy stuff here, and you’re supposed to just grab pastries off the racks, then pay the guy in the red shirt.
Food shopping, expert level: Snack place round the corner that seemed popular with locals. Pointing and smiling not being sufficient to convey that I really wanted to eat, I escalated to the “seem lost enough to for them to call over a friend that speaks a few words of English” technique.
And found myself with dinner for about 40 eurocents. Unidentified kind of meat or vegetables, but definitely fresh and tasty.